SYDNEY, Australia — Scott Van Slyke knows this won’t last forever. When Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp return, Van Slyke will be the Dodgers’ fifth outfielder.
But however the remainder of the season unfolds for him, Van Slyke will always have opening day.
Van Slyke was two for three with a two-run home run Saturday at Sydney Cricket Ground, where the Dodgers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-1.
That was enough for Clayton Kershaw, who limited the Diamondbacks to a run and five hits over 6 2/3 innings. Brian Wilson pitched a scoreless eighth inning to set up Kenley Jansen, who earned his first save.
Van Slyke’s surreal night capped an opening day for the Dodgers that didn’t feel like an opening day.
“It was more festive,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “It had that exhibition-type feel.”
The pregame festivities didn’t include the customary unfurling of a giant American flag. The game was played in a converted cricket stadium late at night. The announced crowd of 36,266 fans was enthusiastic, but clearly unfamiliar with the sport they were watching.
“They really love foul balls, I noticed,” Kershaw said.
Of how foul balls were more loudly cheered than his home runs, Van Slyke said, “Souvenirs. People love souvenirs.”
Van Slyke noticed something else about the crowd.
“A lot more people here have beers in their hand,” he said.
Van Slyke was involved in all three of the Dodgers’ runs.
He followed up Adrian Gonzalez’s lead-off walk in the second inning by driving the ball deep into left field. The ball appeared to be heading over the fence, only to be knocked down by the wind. The ball hit the outfield wall about five feet to the right of left fielder Mark Trumbo, who scaled the fence.
Van Slyke’s double put men on second and third base, allowing a groundout by Andre Ethier to drive in Gonzalez for the first run of the game.
In the sixth inning, Van Slyke hit a low line drive to right field. The ball sliced, but did so inside of the right-field foul pole, which was only 328 feet from home plate. The two-run home run increased the Dodgers’ lead to 3-0.
Van Slyke made the first opening-day start of his career because Crawford was in Arizona awaiting the birth of his third child.
Now 27, he came into this season more settled than last.
When Van Slyke broke into the major leagues in 2012, he had trouble adjusting to a part-time role and batted only .167.
“It was kind of an adjustment period of learning how to come off the bench, start a couple times a week, handle 0 for three and 0 for fours,” he said.
Van Slyke said he was able to turn around his career last year because of help he received from veteran utilitymen Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker. Punto now plays for the Oakland Athletics and Schumaker the Cincinnati Reds.
“With Skip and Nick, it was a real blessing to have them on the bench with me,” Van Slyke said. “They kept it relaxed. I’d see them get their start on a Tuesday after they hadn’t played for three days, and see them grind out at-bats and help defensively. Whether they went 0 for 1 or 2 for 3, they always were excited to get that opportunity to help fill in for somebody.”
By watching Punto and Schumaker, Van Slyke learned to accept his role.
“It was not, ‘Woe is me,’ or, ‘Why am I starting once a week?’ ” Van Slyke said. “I think everybody that plays baseball feels they could be an everyday player. Just watching them, when they get the start, their intensity level, their concentration, the at-bats they had. It seemed they always had good at-bats and when they didn’t, they were upset with themselves. They helped a lot.”
The game was delayed for 14 minutes by rain. By then, the Diamondbacks were more than ready for the game to begin. Their team bus had a flat tire on the way to the stadium before the game, and a handful of players decided to walk the last half-mile to the stadium instead of waiting for a replacement bus.
Yasiel Puig, who hit .122 during spring training, went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts as the Dodgers new leadoff batter.